Every December, I name a “Person of the Year” – the individual who left their mark on Canadian politics over the past year, for good or for bad. Below is a list of recent choices:
2013: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2012: Allison Redford
2011: Jack Layton
2010: Rob Ford & Naheed Nenshi
2009: Jim Flaherty
2008: Stephane Dion
2007: Jean Charest
2006: Michael Ignatieff
2005: Belinda Stronach
2004: Ralph Klein
I’ve never picked Stephen Harper because, duh, obviously the Prime Minister is going to have an impact on politics. And 2014 was no exception. In a year which was very much the prelude to the 2015 election, it was inevitable that Harper would be front in centre – would he call an early election? Would he take a walk in the snow? What would he do with the surplus?
So if you strip Harper away, who does that leave?
The attacks on Parliament Hill stunned the country and will not be soon forgotten, but I doubt terrorism and security will be the defining issues of the next election. Kevin Vickers deserves every honour we can bestow but we’re singling out individuals who made a political impact, not heroes.
The death of Jim Flaherty was another tragedy that exposed the human side of politics. But with the exception of Flaherty’s doubts on the merits of income splitting, Joe Oliver has largely continued on the course his predecessor set.
The real world also cast its ugly shadow into the surreal world of Toronto municipal politics, with Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis. Although John Tory winning something is a small miracle, he was elected precisely because he won’t inspire national and international headlines. So expect his impact on the national scene to be rather muted in the coming years.
So we’re left looking to the provinces for our person of the year. And there are no shortages of candidates.
The implosion of my 2012 Person of the Year Alison Redford was breathtaking, and might very well be the deathblow to Canada’s longest serving government…Oh wait. Who’s that riding into town on a horse to save the day? Why, it’s Jim Prentice. In only a few short months, Jim Prentice has taken the PCs from death’s door to a point where they are basically guaranteed to govern until 2020. Obviously enough, one of the all time great capitulations by Danielle Smith helped. The only thing holding me back from naming Prentice as my Person of the Year is that these “out of the ordinary” events have become rather ordinary in Alberta. As the cliché goes, these are just the sort of things that happen to governments during their 12th term.
Elsewhere, the Manitoba NDP and Newfoundland PCs are in the process of imploding, and seem destined for defeat unless they can find their own Jim Prentice. New Brunswick said hello to a new Premier, and PEI said goodbye to theirs. In Quebec, Philippe Couillard‘s victory doesn’t feel so surprising, but we forget how certain everyone was of a PQ victory. One PKP fist pump later, and no one is talking about another referendum.
The story was very much the same in Ontario. Which brings us to the Woman of the Year:
Although Kathleen Wynne led wire-to-wire, her victory was far from certain. The Liberals were going for a fourth mandate, and many die hard Liberals privately acknowledged they didn’t really deserve re-election. Baggage has a way of building over 10 years, and Wynne did not enjoy Prentice’s ability to come in as an outsider with clean hands. Hudak and Horwath both had paths to victory, and a scenario where the Liberals got squeezed to third place wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Yet Wynne was bold, and proudly progressive. Her opponents certainly made life easier for her, but she was a rookie against two leaders who had done this before. And she won. Decisively.
Though many in Ontario would disagree, Ontario is not Canada. Yet behind the scenes, the Ontario election served as a testing ground for the federal parties, and the lessons learned will be applied federally. Mulcair’s sharp turn to the left this fall was no doubt a response to the backlash Horwath saw for running to the right of the Liberals. And the Tim Hudak campaign of 2014 will serve as a cautionary tale for decades to come.
Since her win, Wynne has inserted herself into the national dialogue in a way Ontario Premiers have been shy to do in the past. Kathleen Wynne may not look or sound like Danny Williams or Ralph Klein, but she appears eager to assume the title of chief antagonist to the Prime Minister. Regardless of whether or not she ever gets her dinner date with Stephen Harper, she’s a player on the national stage. That will matter if Ontario turns into a battleground in 2015, as most expect. On pensions, on pipelines, on the environment – expect Wynne’s voice to be heard not just in Ontario, but nationally.
It’s being spun as a “reconciliation”, but if reports are to be believed, it’s very much the Wildrose rebels crawling back to their former comrades and begging for their political lives. In exchange for blowing up their party, Danielle Smith and a half dozen MLAs will be given seats on the government benches and a Jim Prentice endorsement for their local PC nomination. Added to this are a few token “concessions” to provide cover: No sales tax; A list of infrastructure priorities; A commitment to teaching the “3 Rs” in school. Bold stuff.
I guess once the PCs agreed to keep “Wildrose Country” on the license plate, there really weren’t any big battles left worth fighting.
The great irony is that a party created to give the grassroots a voice is trying to self-immolate in the least grassroots way possible. The McKay-Harper merger may have been negotiated in the backrooms, but it was approved by over 90% of both party memberships. In this instance, Smith and her MLAs have set the house ablaze and run out the back door. Sure, members are welcome to try and rebuild, but the reality is the Wildrose is unlikely to become much more than it was before Smith brought the party to relevance – a few angry men screaming on the fringes.
As the federal unite the right movement showed, there are times when principles must be compromised for the sake of pragmatism. There may have been fundamental differences between the Alliance and PCs, but they recognized the alternative to merger was another decade of Liberal rule. You could accuse them of being in it for power, but it was still power driven by purpose.
Here? Suffice to say, Danielle Smith did not do this to derail the Raj Sherman juggernaut. After all, progressives may be the only group in Alberta more dysfunctional than the Edmonton Oilers. Their solution to the vote split on the left has been to create more parties on the left.
Indeed, while the left had zero chance of winning the next election, the Wildrose were still very much in the game. Polling this fall showed the Wildrose and PCs within a few points of each other, a far cry from the 10-30 point leads Alison Redford enjoyed after taking the leadership. The Wildrose admittedly under-performed in fall by-elections, but the Jim Prentice honeymoon is not going to last forever. There’s an old saying in politics that “time for a change” sentiment really peaks towards the end of a party’s 12th term, and Prentice’s handling of the gay rights debate last week showed he is just as adept at creating problems for himself as his predecessor. With oil prices cratering, the PCs will soon find themselves facing difficult fiscal decisions.
This wasn’t a case of “if you can’t beat them, join ‘em”. True, the Alberta PCs are the longest serving government in Canadian history for a reason, but Smith could have won, had she chosen to stay and fight.
She chose not to. Maybe she was tired. Maybe the perks of an eventual Cabinet position were too much to pass up. Regardless of the reason, there’s one inescapable conclusion. When you make as much noise as Smith did about a government being tired and corrupt – and then join them - it’s clear you never really believed in your convictions as much as you claimed to.
In that respect, she’ll be right at home in her new party.
Naheed Nenshi has built a reputation as Canada’s coolest mayor, at least among young progressives. He’s big on the Twitter. He’s hip (by politician standards). He’s funny (by politician standards). He shatters the (unfair) stereotype of Calgary as Canada’s redneck wasteland.
However, Nenshi may have competition from Calgary’s rival city.
While Calgary broke barriers by electing Canada’s first Muslim mayor, Edmonton broke barriers last fall with the election of Don Ivesion – Canada’s first openly Nerd mayor.
I crossed paths with Iveson a few times when I was at the University of Alberta. I remember bumping into him on the bus shortly after he’d been elected to council so I asked him how the job was treating him. He deadpanned a two minute story to set up a West Wing punchline (“Crime. Boy, I don’t know”). That shouldn’t have surprised me from a guy who tweets West Wing quotes, borrows Bartlet campaign tactics, and even played episodes at his campaign office. While this undoubtedly makes him a political nerd, you don’t need Joey Lucas’ polling to tell you everyone who works in politics has given a “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” speech, or taken a “which west wing character are you” quiz…over and over, until it gave you the answer you wanted (“Will Bailey? That can’t be right. I’m totally a Josh.”).
No, what sets Iveson apart is that he breaks free of political nerd culture, boldly going where few politicians have gone before – into full blown nerd culture. Case in point, from Edmonton’s Comic & Entertainment Expo:
Iveson took the opportunity to deliver a speech about the future of the city to a room of people who I would imagine spend a lot more time watching Battlestar Galactica reruns than Power & Politics. By coming in costume and warming up the crowd, he caused ears to perk up on important municipal issues – and not just because many were dressed as vulcans. A few will roll their eyes when they see the pictures, but Iveson instantly connected with hundreds of voters. Consider this the final frontier of micro-targeting.
This past week, the Mayor was in fine form again, using an analogy from the Civilization computer game to express the need for infrastructure investment (no word on whether he felt this should take priority over defense spending to fend off barbarian uprisings). Once again, he used a little geek charm to liven up a dry topic, thereby winning the eternal devotion of anyone who has ever said “one more turn” until the wee hours of the morning.
I have no idea what’s next for Iveson. Tardis phone booths in Edmonton? An anti-zombie fence around City Hall? Subcontracting law enforcement services out to Batman?
Regardless, Don Iveson has injected some fun into Edmonton municipal politics, giving Ontario progressives (at least us nerdier ones) yet another Alberta Mayor to be envious of.
I know I said I wouldn’t blog much over the next year, but if I have to come on here every time Rob Anders loses a nomination, I’m going to run out of bandwidth.
Here was Rob back in July, on his decision to seek the CPC nomination in Bow River:
“I really feel that [Bow River] is the Alberta I moved to in the 1980s. It’s a place with more trucks, and it certainly wouldn’t have elected someone like Naheed Nenshi, or other liberals pretending to be Conservatives these days. I feel a real connection. I find the people there are actually very sympathetic. They’re real Conservatives and you certainly feel that. There’s a strong pro-life movement going on in this riding, all sorts of hunting and shooting ranges.”
Today Anders was defeated by Martin Shields, who I can only assume is a secret Liberal. I mean, the guy doesn’t even own a truck.
After being rejected in Bow River, the question now becomes where Rob turns next. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, who signed the nomination papers for a candidate who said gays would “burn in a fiery lake for eternity“, has already said “thanks, but no thanks” to Rob, gently suggesting he move to the private sector. There is the upcoming Yellowhead by-election, but that’s a riding that elected “secret Liberal” Joe Clark four times. So scratch that.
If only there were a group of voters who would “never elect someone like Naheed Nenshi”, longing for a leader cut from Rob’s cloth.
Sadly, the deadline to run for Mayor of Toronto has passed, so this might very well be the end of Rob Anders.
An Alberta PC leadership race devoid of ideas has its first eye-catching policy.
Presumptive front-runner Jim Prentice has pledged limits of 2 terms on the Premier and 3 terms on MLAs. This no doubt comes in response to accusations the PC government has grown stale over time, though I would point out that many of their problems stem from the actions of a politician who became Premier after just three years as an MLA, before exiting in disgrace after winning a single election as Premier.
Meanwhile, I’d be very curious if Prentice feels his old boss, gunning for a fourth term as PM next year, is past his “best before” date. I’d also be curious if Prentice feels this is true of the following 13 MLAs who have endorsed him:
Mary Anne Jablonski
Yes, they would all be grandfathered in under Prentice’s proposal, but this still comes across as a bit of a slap to their faces.
Truth be told, many of the names on that list likely have passed their best before date, but isn’t that up to voters to decide? Admittedly there are safe ridings, but as Rob Anders learned this spring, open nominations are a method of removing some rot, without forcing out good politicians.
This is nothing more than a gimmicky proposal that would merely drive experienced politicians out of office. The PCs need to change now, and by exempting current MLAs, this would not lead to any changes until long after Prentice leaves office.
These are not happy days for the party which has ruled Alberta since before Happy Days ever aired, but the PCs had something to celebrate this weekend as they passed
Ontario’s Big Blue Machine Nova Scotia’s Big Red Machine to become the longest serving government in Canadian history.
There are many reasons for their longevity. An ability to portray themselves as the true defenders of Alberta against the federal government. Leveraging the resources that come with power to their maximum advantage. Inept opposition parties, who were not helped by the actions of their federal counterparts.
But above all else, the Alberta PCs are still ticking because they have shown an uncanny ability to adapt and evolve. The party would have ended in 1993 if Ralph Klein hadn’t completely shaken up the establishment and their approach to government. It would have ended in 2012 if Alison Redford hadn’t flown in to rebrand, sucking up votes on the left of the political spectrum.
And it will end in a year or two if Jim Prentice isn’t able to adapt again.
Oh Rob Anders, don’t you ever change:
“It’s a place with more trucks, and it certainly wouldn’t have elected someone like [Calgary mayor] Naheed Nenshi, or other liberals pretending to be Conservatives these days. I feel a real connection.”
-Rob Anders, on his decision to seek the Conservative nomination in Bow River
This week’s pilgrimage of politicians to the Stampede was met with less fanfare than some years gone by. This wasn’t the first rodeo for any of the party leaders, and ever since the leather vest incident, wardrobes are vetted by dozens of staffers and stylists. So there were few surprises and few opportunities to ridicule.
And, let’s be honest, everyone was there for the Shat.
Which kind of makes me sad Jack Layton isn’t around anymore. Mulcair? He’s supposed to be in town this weekend (if Harper lets him), but I see him as more of a Picard than a Kirk fan. Or maybe Riker – post beard.
That left the spotlight squarely on Justin Trudeau, flanked by local Liberal candidates who are trying to go where no Calgary Liberals have gone before (at least in the last 40 years) – to Ottawa.
Fresh off a victory of sorts in Fort McMurray – the heart of the oilsands – there are high hopes for a Calgary breakthrough. Ironically, it may be a Trudeau who finally puts the ghost of the NEP to bed in Alberta.
With what now seems like a yearly tradition – an Alberta PC leadership race – in full swing, I’ve taken the opportunity to rank the would-be-Premiers by their Stampede wardrobes. After all, the PC constitution forbids them from talking about policy, so what else are Albertans going to base their decision on?
Finishing third, and the winner of “worst dressed” this year, is Tom Lukaszuk. I recognize he spends 30 minutes on his hair every morning, but surely he could have donned a cowboy hat just this once? All I’m asking for is the bare minimum effort.
In second, Ric McIver gives it the bare minimum effort, wearing jeans and at least carrying a hat around.
Like the leadership race itself, there was never any doubt about who would win this fashion round-up. Jim Prentice has been a Stampede All-Star over the years – he rides a horse, throws a breakfast, and makes a wide range of outfits work.
And, finally, there is Naheed Nenshi, who this week passed the Calgary Tower as the city’s most photographed landmark.